Behind the Headline: Virginia Faces a Test as Math Scores Plummet

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Virginia Faces a Test as Math Scores Plummet
Washington Post | 12/17/2012

Behind the Headline
Solving America’s Math Problem
Education Next | Winter 2013

In Virginia, the state board has made the Virginia Standards of Learning math test more challenging, which has caused scores to decline.  Some teachers are wondering if the new standards are too high, particularly for students who are not college-bound. In his column in the Washington Post, Jay Mathews wonders if the demanding standards and tests are relevant for all students (and also wonders why schools are not spending more time on non-cognitive skills like persistence and teamwork which will improve high school graduates’ chance of success on the job).

In an article appearing in the Winter 2013 issue of Ed Next, Jacob Vigdor looks at the impact of curricular reforms in math which are focusing on narrowing test-score gaps between moderate and high performers. While Mathews is concerned about the impact of the reforms on students who may not be dreaming of college, for whom the higher levels of math may be too challenging, Vigdor notes that the reforms are having an unintended effect on the most talented students, for whom the new curriculum is not challenging enough.  “A narrow-minded focus on the magnitude of the gap,” he writes, “can lead to scenarios where the gap is closed primarily by worsening the performance of high-achieving students—bringing the top down—without raising the performance of low-achieving students.” The lack of differentiation can end up hurting students at both ends of the spectrum.

Vigdor explains

American public schools have made a clear trade-off over the past few decades. With the twin goals of improving the math performance of the average student and promoting equality, it has made the curriculum more accessible. The drawback to exclusive use of this more accessible curriculum can be observed among the nation’s top-performing students, who are either less willing or less able than their predecessors or their high-achieving global peers to follow the career paths in math, science, and engineering that are the key to innovation and job creation. In the name of preparing more of the workforce to take those jobs, we have harmed the skills of those who might have created them.

Please read “Solving America’s Math Problem: Tailor Instruction to the Varying Needs of the Students,” by Jacob Vigdor, professor of public policy and economics at Duke University, in the Winter 2013 issue of Education Net.

-Education Next

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